Rohit Khetrapal, CEO of Tegile Systems on path toward IPO

tegileTegile Systems, interview with CEO Rohit Khetrapal
Date: 26 February 2014
CrunchBase profile Tegile Systems

As a part of my CEO series, I interview CEOs of innovative companies in the fields of Storage, Virtualization and Networking.

Tegile Systems has been founded in 2009 and offers a range of Hybrid Storage arrays, labelled as Zebi storage arrays. Their top model can be configured as a 100% all-flash array, while keeping the option open to expand the storage capacity with cabinets of magnetic disk up to 200 TB.

Tegile Zebi arrays further offer flexibility in terms of access (iSCSI and Fibrechannel) and work with NFS, CIF and SMB.

I spoke with CEO Rohit Khetrapal about the core values of Tegile Systems, his views on the storage market and their path toward IPO.

WTH: You have been with Tegile from 2009 onward?

Rohit Khetrapal: Yes, we really started the company, I would say at the end of 2010 / early 2011, but I was a part of the founding team indeed.

WTH:There is quite a difference between CEOs that are founders and those that are not, wouldn’t you say? How personal is Tegile for you?

Rohit Khetrapal: The biggest part of what you do, is you got to have passion for it. When you start something from the ground up, you have to understand what the market needs at that time. I have experienced that when you resonate to a problem that you are solving, your passion keeps growing. That is really what Tegile has been about for me.

It’s about being passionate about changing the storage environment and more importantly solving problems that your customers are having. When those two things come together, you see that you can bring real value to a customer and that passion keeps growing.

Right now it’s also about bringing the company to the next level. The growth has been very good for us.

The original premise that we started running with was to come up with a storage environment that solved the virtualization bottleneck for server, desktop and database. We were convinced that the traditional storage environments like Netapp we not up to that task.

WTH: That brings me right to the next question which is about differentiation. Suresh Vasudevan of Nimble Storage similarly used Netapp as a frame of reference, how do you keep differentiation yourself in this field?

Read my interview with Suresh Vasudevan of Nimble Storage

Rohit Khetrapal: It’s about solving problems for the customer and your views as a company on what those problems are. The big one for the customer was that the I/O patterns in virtualization environments were very different to before, and a new storage architecture was needed than the standard tiering and striping concept.

Unlike others in this space that came with single protocol solutions, we felt there was a multi-protocol requirement that our customers needed. We decided to go with iSCSI plus Fibrechannel, and NFS/CIFS and SMB.

Similarly concerning flash and magnetic, we decided the customer should really have the option to adjust the storage to the workloads they are running. Whether that requires a lot of space or the performance of an all-flash array.

You can go all-flash with a Tegile or you can co flash-hybrid. Within the flash-Hybrid the datareduction is fairly substantial. We are the only vendor that does the datareduction across both the flash layer as well as the magnetic hard drives.

WTH: I imagine the flexibility in file protocols and access broadens your potential customer range

Rohit Khetrapal: That is right, that provides flexibility from a customer standpoint and to us it expands the market. We don’t enter at the Nimble layer, rather we enter at the Netapp or Dell Compellent layer.

In terms of performance too, we’re generally 2x faster on the entry level and 6x at the top-end level than Nimble. To make clear, it is not about number games, what I am saying is that we are engaged in a higher market tier.

WTH: How do you see the future of flash developing? Is the all-flash future very near, or will we keep the in-between model for long?

Rohit Khetrapal: To us it is always about what is the price performance that you get, and the performance your workload requires. There will always be a speed layer and a capacity layer, today this can be flash and hard drives and tomorrow this can be PCIE and SAS SSD. It is really about providing the balance between the costs/performance with the technology that is there.

WTH: How do you regard the development towards server based storage?

Rohit Khetrapal: We always believe that you should do the work where it is required. The architecture must be natural in its implementation. If you start taking storage components and placing them in the server layer you do not get cache consistency.

For instance you can use server flash to speed up a virtual desktop. The reality is that this server is writing and if that server fails in some form, then you can’t guarantee the write.
When you let the server do the compute part and let the storage do its part, you are able to provide a much more robust solution in the environment.

To us the naturalness of the architecture cannot be disturbed that easily.

WTH: This is a very interesting topic to me, as several storage companies placed their bets the other way.

In my talk with the CEO of Diablo Technologies he expressed the opposite view, namely that it is all about increasing the amount of work per server. His perspective is that storage in itself does not produce work and that it should be as close as possible to Compute to increase the work done per server.

Read my interview with Riccardo Badalone, CEO of Diablo Technologies

If you take that idea and add techniques like PernixData that provide data resilience, how is that not a good solution?

Read my article on PernixData

Rohit Khetrapal: I believe the purity of an architecture always makes it more robust. Now we try and have different servers taking care of robustness.

In a storage layer the write guarantee is something that has been done for many decades.

We can move compute very easily. VMware has allowed for that. But data you cannot move that quickly. Being able to guarantee the data is extremely critical. In an ULTRADIMM failure, what does one do? To me it is really about data guarantee and data robustness, this is why you’ve got these separated architectures.

WTH: I get your point here about purity of architecture. I do believe, however, that from a customer standpoint there are two valid options when your old storage array does not perform. You either invest in a new array, or you implement a server-side caching layer like we discussed.

Rohit Khetrapal: You tell me William, where should the caching architecture be if EMC or Netapp could do it correctly? It should sit where the storage layer sits. It is because they are unable to do it, that we are moving caching to the server layer.

WTH: Well…to be specific, in PernixData FVP a write gets written to two other hosts before the write is acknowledged. That sounds pretty robust to me. If you add that to the extremely fast flash options out there, by for instance Diablo, you can’t deny that doesn’t make for a compelling solution.

Rohit Khetrapal: (laughing) Fair! That is true but still to me you are compensating for what the storage architecture cannot do. If the storage architecture does this naturally, you would not need it.

WTH: Allright, let’s settle on that. Say what are you envisioning for the coming time, is IPO the goal for Tegile?

Rohit Khetrapal: It absolutely is. To us it is about building the organization so that it is ready for IPO. The timing depends on growth – which we do in a very effective manner. We have grown over 350% and are well on our way. How long the road will be, whether it is 18 months or 24 months depends on our sustained growth and how the market is at that time.

WTH: Your VC mix is quite specific, with WD and Sandisk as strategic investors on board.

Rohit Khetrapal: We have a good mix I believe. On the one hand we have traditional investors in the mix like August Capital, who has invested in Splunk before and Meritech Capital, who were behind Fusion IO and Facebook.

We balance that with strategic partners like Western Digital / Hitachi Global Storage Technologies. We are able to define the workload requirements for SSDs with them very clearly. In essence, we do not only get a higher quality SSD from them, we also get the best performance out of an SSD in the market place. So it is not just about the money with them. The biggest part of what we are about is quality. If you put cheap disk and cheap SSD in it, you are trying to beat down the laws of physics and that does not work.

WTH: How large is Tegile right now, how many people work for you?

Rohit Khetrapal: Right now we are 170 people and growing very substantially right now in sales, channel and marketing.

WTH:Are there new geographical areas where you are focussing?

Rohit Khetrapal: Today we are very focused both on the US and EMEA, towards the middle part of the year you will see us focus on Asia and Australia. The growth in both the US and EMEA has been going extremely well.

WTH: You are 170 people and growing. How would you define Tegile’s culture and how do you maintain it?

Rohit Khetrapal: The first essential element of our culture is passion. People that go for start-ups are definitely go-getters. They could have had a cushy job elsewhere easily, but for them it is about having passion for what they do every day. So we have to liven up that passion.

Once you have the individuals passion, the work effort and the teneacity keeps going.

The second element is creating value for the customer. Customer satisfaction is not enough, it is about real customer gratification. In our selection process we look closely for new employees that are going to take care of our customers.

Every system in the world has problems, that is never going to change. It is about how you handle those problems that is essential. Our job is to take care of our customer, this is a big part of or culture.

The third part is really employee fairness. If you are good to your employees, then you can expect them to take care of your customers

WTH: Thanks for speaking so openly today. As a note to end on, you seem a very happy guy. When you wake up in the morning, what do you love most about being CEO for Tegile?

Rohit Khetrapal: (laughing) I really enjoy what I do and I love interacting with my customers. It’s great when they see the value of our solution compared to the storage arrays that they had, that gives me great satisfaction that we’re changing storage.

There is a real need, real problems that we are solving for our customers. That’s where my passion comes from and that is why I believe our growth will continue.

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